When Dinosaurs Ruled The Mind #66: Dinosaurs Over The Years: Brontosaurus

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This is actually a post I’ve been wanting to make for a long time, but I didn’t feel like the time was right yet. I kind of wanted the whole thing to just blow over a bit before I did my take on it. Science changes so frequently, and something that was claimed to be true and revolutionary one moment can be just a second study away from being thrown in the garbage. But now I think enough time has passed, and the general consensus has remained unchanged. Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good news.

Brontosaurus is back.

Yes, Brontosaurus is once again a scientifically recognized genus distinct from Apatosaurus. Nostalgia, rejoice!

But, as many dinosaur fans know, when mainstream news outlets report dinosaur news they almost never fact check, leading to some cringe worthy article titles. When this whole thing first trended, many articles would post a picture of an old, dumpy, Knightian image of a Brontosaurus from the 1970’s, as if to insinuate that that creature was somehow confirmed to be real. This lead to many comments on those articles to say ‘yeah but it still didn’t look like that’. So, how did Brontosaurus really look in comparison to how the general public thinks it looks.


This image by Charles R Knight pretty much sums up what scientists thought Brontosaurus looked like for nearly a century after it’s publication and even to the present for every day people. Big, lumpy, kind of like a mix between a reptile, an elephant, and a whale. Living in the water, too big to stay on land for too much, and with that ridiculous boxy head.

 This image of the Brontosaurus is so pervasive it’s pretty much the first thing people think of when they think of a sauropod, or long necked, dinosaur. Heck, it’s the first image to come to mind for many people when you mention the word ‘dinosaur’ itself! So, what did Brontosaurus really look like?

Well, let’s go ahead and dissect the popular image of the thunder lizard by looking at one of it’s most populat silhouettes on the logo of the Sinclair gasoline corporation.

You see that? Hits right in the nostalgia for you baby boomers out there huh? Classic Americana.

It’s all wrong!

First off, we’l l get to the most infamous thing that most of you reading this should all ready know, and if you just stumbled across this webpage as you casually surf the internet and don’t have that much of an understanding on dinosaurs, here is some news for you. The boxy head that Brontosaurus is usually portrayed with actually belonged to a different sauropod dinosaur called Camarasaurus, and the skull was incorrectly attributed to Brontosaurus early in it’s discovery.

Camarasaurus for the uninitiated.

Now, let’s compare the skull of a Camarasaurus to the head often attached to Brontosaurus reconstructions.

Camarasaurus skull.

Typical Brontosaurus head.

But in reality, Brontosaurus would have had skull more similar to it’s relatives Apatosaurus and Diplodocus, who have a much more slender, horse like head.

Like this.

Other common cliches used in popular Brontosaurus illustrations include the swan-like upright neck that creates a S curve down to the bloated hump backed body to the lowered tail often dragging on the ground. Pretty much all of this is false. Although the positions a sauropod neck is capable of is still a hotly debated issue in paleontology, most agree that the perfect swan S curve is an impossibility. That bloated body is also a bit of an exaggeration, as brontosaurus’ closest relatives are pretty well known as being the most slender of sauropods. Sure, they obviously still had bulk on them, but not to the degree of other contemporary sauropods like Camarasaurus. And this should go without saying, but no dinosaur dragged their tail on the ground. The bones in the tail were much too stiff, and were instead held high above at hip level.

In reality, the Brontosaurus would have looked very similar to it’s relative and once synonym Apatosaurus, and when the creatures were alive the only way to tell them apart would have probably been through coloration and other outward features that don’t correctly fossilize.

So, if Brontosaurus was so similar to Apatosaurus, so much so that scientists considered them to be the same genus for nearly a century, what makes a Brontosaurus a Brontosaurus? Well, one of the biggest distinguishing features is in the neck.

Although it is rarely accurately portrayed, Apatosaurus had an incredibly thick and beefy neck, while Brontosaurus’ neck wasn’t nearly as meaty. The vertebrae in Apatosaurus’ neck were incredibly robust, despite the fact that most restorations give the creature a thin, snake-like one. Brontosaurus’ neck was also fairly thick, but not nearly as much as Apatosaurus.

 Of course, this leads me to believe that the Apatosaurus’ in Jurassic World, which were criticized by dinosaur fans for their thin, spindly necks, are in fact meant to be Brontosaurus.

And let’s be honest, doesn’t Brontosaurus fit Jurassic Park’s style just a bit more?

So yes, for now Brontosaurus is back. Sure, he may not be how you remember him, but let’s all be glad that we can finally say that awesome name again and not be ridiculed by a billion scientific purists like myself.


‘Thunder Lizard’


Doesn’t that just sound so much better?

Join me next time as I (finally) finish my coverage of the Jurassic Park toys as I bring you the latest JP action figures to grace the Wal-Mart shelves. I take a look at the toys of Jurassic World.

These guys are just a little bit more wrong than usual.


4 thoughts on “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Mind #66: Dinosaurs Over The Years: Brontosaurus

  1. I thought it was the other way round. I’m pretty sure it was the Apatosaurus that got given the Camarasaurus head and the Brontosaurus had the proper head, then they realised ‘Hey, he put the wrong head on the Apatosaurus, and when we put the proper head on, they look identical What do you know, they must be the same!’


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